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Students' understanding of voltage in simple parallel electric circuits

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Publication details

JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
DatePublished - 1993
Issue number4
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)351-361
Original languageEnglish


This paper reports an investigation of the performance of school students at age 15 on written diagnostic questions involving the prediction of meter readings in simple electric circuits with parallel branches. Results show that these students tend to perceive such questions in resistance-current terms, with a primary focus on resistor addition, rather than in voltage terms, with two loads being driven from the same source. Common errors in predicting voltages across parallel branches suggest that few students use a mental model of voltage in approaching parallel circuit problems but instead attempt to solve problems by mechanical use of the V = IR equation. Implications for the teaching of electric circuits at this level are identified.

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